Hold the Fluids: Rethinking Early Crystalloid Resuscitation in Penetrating Trauma

By: Dr. Maddie Boyle

This is part of a recurring series examining landmark articles in Emergency Medicine, in the style of ALiEM’s 52 Articles.

This blog post reviews the article by: Bickell WH, et al. Immediate Versus Delayed Fluid Resuscitation for Hypotensive Patients with Penetrating Torso Injuries. NEJM. 1994; 331 (17): 1105 – 1109.

Main Points:

  1. Early, large volume crystalloid resuscitation in the trauma patient with penetrating wounds and hypotension may lead to hydraulic disruption of a formed clot and a dilutional coagulopathy, thereby exacerbating hemorrhage and decreasing survival.
  1. Restricting isotonic fluids in the penetrating trauma patient with hypotension prior to operative intervention (where definitive hemorrhage control can be achieved) lead to higher survival rates when compared to those individuals treated with early, aggressive isotonic fluid resuscitation (70% vs 62%, p=0.04). This paper suggests a potential adverse effect from aggressive crystalloid administration and emphasizes the importance of prioritizing surgical management in the patient with hemorrhagic shock from penetrating trauma.


Historically, the standard approach for the trauma patient with hypotension has been aggressive volume resuscitation with crystalloid fluids in order to restore circulating volume and maintain organ perfusion. More recent studies suggest that aggressive crystalloid fluid administration prior to definitive hemorrhage control may be detrimental. Aggressive fluids in the bleeding patient may be deleterious for multiple reasons, most notably the risk of dislodging a softly form clot at the injury site with restoration of blood pressure and the risk of increased bleeding secondary to dilution of clotting factors when large volumes of crystalloid fluids are infused. Recent literature such as the PROPPR trial has investigated colloid based transfusion strategies, however, this study predates the data gathered from the recent Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.

The goal of this study was to evaluate fluid administration in hypotensive patients with penetrating torso trauma and determine whether delayed fluid-resuscitation (after operative intervention), compared to an early fluid administration conferred a survival benefit. Researchers performed a prospective, single center trial comparing immediate fluid resuscitation vs. delayed fluid resuscitation in patients with penetrating torso trauma with a pre-hospital systolic BP <90 mmHg requiring operative intervention for hemorrhage control. The study found a mortality benefit favoring delayed resuscitation: 70% of patients enrolled in the delayed-resuscitation group survived vs. 62% of patients in the immediate-resuscitation group (p=0.04). This study highlights numerous important questions regarding fluid strategy in the trauma patients, including the type of resuscitative fluid, the volume and timing of fluid administration. The results of this investigation continued to be queried today as research examines permissive hypotension and damage control resuscitation strategies in the trauma patient.


1: Adequate power.
2: Intention-to-treat analysis.


1: Semi-randomized, non-blinded.
2: Generalizability: Study population was largely young, healthy adult males.
3: Feasibility: The average time elapsed from ambulance call to operative intervention was approximately 2-hours for each study group. This type of rapid response and expedited time to operative intervention may not be attainable by many hospitals.
4: External validity: study cannot be applied to patients with blunt trauma, traumatic brain injury (where fluid resuscitation to achieve blood pressure control is paramount) or in those penetrating trauma patients with delayed presentation.
5: No mention of neurologic outcome with regards to survival benefit.


Prospective, single-center trial.

Population: Adults or adolescents (age ≥16 years) with gunshot or stab wounds to the torso who had a SBP ≤ 90 mm Hg in the field, including those patients with no blood pressure at the time of initial paramedic evaluation.

Patients were separated into two treatment groups based on the day of the month. Patients injured on even-numbered days were assigned to the immediate-resuscitation group, whereas those injured on odd-numbered days were treated in the delayed-resuscitation group. Patients in the immediate-resuscitation group received isotonic crystalloid (ringer’s acetate) en route, and those with SBP <100 mm Hg upon arrival in the ED received continuous infusion of crystalloid or pRBCs when necessary as determined by standards established by the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma. The delayed-resuscitation group did not receive fluids, regardless of clinical condition, outside of those small infusions required to keep lines patent. Otherwise, the two treatment groups were treated identically in terms of pre-hospital and trauma care. The average time from emergency dispatch to surgical intervention was approximately 130 minutes in both groups.

Surgical interventions were dictated by the injury and included thoracotomy within the ED, thoracotomy in the OR, laparotomy, neck exploration, and groin exploration. During surgical intervention, IV crystalloid and pRBCs were given as needed, independent of study group assignment in order to maintain SBP of 100 mm Hg, hematocrit ≥ 25% and urinary output ≥ 50 cc/hr in both treatment groups. The total volume of crystalloid and colloid fluids provided in the OR was not statistically different between the two study arms, however, the rate of intraoperative fluid administration was noted to be 117 +/- 126 for the immediate resuscitation group and 91+/- 88 for the delayed resuscitation group with a p value of 0.008.

The primary outcome measure was survival, defined as patients who did not die during hospitalization. Secondary outcome measures included six prospectively identified post-operative complications including: sepsis, coagulopathy, acute renal failure, ARDS, pneumonia and wound infection.

598 patients were ultimately considered for the study. 309 were enrolled in the immediate-resuscitation group and 289 in the delayed-resuscitation group. The patients were similar in their baseline demographics and clinical condition. Of the 598 patients, 70 died before operative intervention. The remaining 528 had an operative intervention: 260 patients in the delayed-resuscitation group and 268 patients in the immediate-resuscitation group.

The mean fluid administration prior to operative intervention in the immediate-resuscitation group was 2611 ml. The mean fluid administration prior to operative intervention in the delayed-resuscitation group was 386 ml.

The overall rate of survival was higher in the delayed-resuscitation group vs. immediate-resuscitation (70% vs 62%, p-0.04). The immediate-resuscitation group trended towards more intraoperative fluid loss (p=0.11) and required a higher rate of intraoperative fluid delivery in order to maintain SBP >100 (117 cc/hr vs. 91 cc/hr, p=0.008). There was a trend towards more complications (ARDs, pneumonia, etc.) in the immediate-resuscitation group compared to the delayed-resuscitation group (p-0.08), however, no definitive explanation for why this may have occurred was discussed.

The authors of this study propose that their results suggest that aggressive fluid administration in the patient with penetrating trauma should be delayed until the time of operative intervention. They suggest a risk for greater bleeding, hemodilution and coagulopathy with aggressive fluid administration. The authors acknowledge the limitations of their study, most importantly its inapplicability to blunt trauma patients and patients with severe head injuries, but advise similar studies in these groups in the future.

Level of Evidence:

Class II utilizing the ACEP grading scheme for therapeutic questions

Relevant articles:

Timing and volume of fluid administration for patients with bleeding
Hypotensive resuscitation strategy reduces transfusion requirements and severe postoperative coagulopathy in trauma patients with hemorrhagic shock: preliminary results of a randomized controlled trial.
PROPPR trial

Source Article:

Bickell WH, et al. Immediate Versus Delayed Fluid Resuscitation for Hypotensive Patients with Penetrating Torso Injuries. NEJM 1994; 331 (17): 1105 – 1109.


Resident Reviewer: Dr. Anatoly Kazakin
Faculty Reviewer: Dr. Matt Siket

CITW 14: The Blue Man

Welcome back to another Clinical Image of the Week from the case files of the Brown EM Residency!

HPI/ROS: 57 year old male with a history of bacterial endocarditis and hypertension presents to the ED for watery diarrhea. He reports gradually worsening diarrhea over the past three weeks after starting HIV post-exposure prophylaxis medications. He does not recall the names of the medications. He’s tried Imodium without relief. Associated symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, and dizziness. Denies fevers, chills, chest pain, vomiting, abdominal pain, urinary symptoms, rashes, or swelling. He endorses recent antibiotic use for a sinus infection, but denies recent hospitalizations and other recent medication changes. He also endorses recent ETOH use, but denies illicit drug use.

Vital Signs: T 97.1, HR 114, RR 18, BP 121/75, SpO2 89% on RA

Pertinent physical exam: Ill appearing and diaphoretic. There is perioral and digital cyanosis (see below). 3/4 systolic heart murmur (chronic). Abdomen soft, non-tender. Lungs clear to auscultation. No other pertinent exam findings.

Cyanosis Pre
mage 1: Provider’s hand on the left, patient’s hand on the right. 

The patient was put on 100% O2 by non-rebreather and his SpO2 improved to only 90%.

What’s the diagnosis?

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Ottawa Ankle Rules

This is part of a recurring series examining landmark articles in Emergency Medicine, in the style of ALiEM’s 52 Articles.

Discussing:  Stiell IG, et al. Decision Rules for the Use of Radiography in Acute Ankle Injuries. JAMA 1993; 269 (9): 1127 – 1132.

 X-Rays for ankle fractures? Is trouble a foot?

With a such a refined Canadian tool you can’t act like a fool.

 The Rules:

Ottawa Ankle

Main Points:

  1. The Ottawa ankle rule is an excellent screening tool for patients with ankle and foot injuries. In this study, it was found to have a sensitivity of 100 percent and is therefore unlikely to miss clinically significant ankle and midfoot injuries.
  2. These simple rules allowed physicians to safely reduce the number of radiographs ordered in patients with ankle and foot injuries by nearly a third.
  3. Based on the combined 1485 patients seen in the two stages the negative likelihood ratio for a fracture is estimated to be 0 for both the ankle and foot series rules!


Acute ankle injuries are one of the most common presenting complaints seen in the Emergency Department. Ankle radiographs are typically the second most commonly performed musculoskeletal examination, after the cervical spine. It was estimated that more than 5 million ankle radiographs are ordered annually in Canada and the USA with a cost of $500 creating a massive burden on the healthcare systems. Out of all of these images, treatable fractures are present in less than 15 percent of cases.

In 1992, Ian Stiell and his colleagues derived a clinical decision tool for the use of radiography in acute ankle and foot injuries. In the original study, thirty-two clinical variables were assessed for association with fractures seen on x-ray. Using these results, a set of rules were derived to determine if imaging was necessary for patients with ankle and foot injuries who met certain criteria. The goal of the study being reviewed here was to prospectively validate and potentially refine the decision rules to have the highest sensitivity possible, 100 percent, for identifying malleoli and midfoot fractures.


The study was set up as a convenience survey and was prospectively administered in two stages: validation and refinement of the original rules, followed by validation of the refined rules in a new group of patients. For the study, injuries were subdivided into malleolar and midfoot zones. Patients who presented to the emergency department with pain or tenderness secondary to blunt ankle trauma due to any mechanism of injury were included. Patients were excluded if they were less than 18 years old, pregnant, has isolated skin injuries, were referred from outside facility with X-rays already completed, if injuries occurred more than 10 days ago, or if the patient had returned for reassessment of the injury.

Participants were evaluated by emergency medicine physicians who recorded their findings and interpretation of the decision rules on a standardized data collection sheet. All patients were then referred for radiography. Images were interpreted by radiologists who were blinded to the findings of the physician in the ED. Clinically significant fractures were defined as bone fragments greater than 3 mm in breadth, as avulsion fractures of 3 mm or less are not treated with plaster immobilization in the institutions involved in the study.

Data collected from the first stage was analyzed in order to refine the decision rules towards the objective of a sensitivity of 1.0. Each of the clinical variables were assessed for association with significant fractures in the ankle and foot radiographs. In the second stage, the sensitivity and specificity of the refined decision rules (see image above) was calculated and the accuracy and reliability of the physicians’ interpretation of the rules was determined. Continue reading

The Central Line Part 2: Technique & Procedural Steps

a blog series on emergency medicine procedures

In the last post (the central line part 1) we focused on the indications/contraindications and anatomic considerations. Here we focus on technique and procedural steps. Enjoy. 



*note: images shown in this section are institution-specific (Rhode Island Hospital Emergency Department) 

Find a computer with a functioning Topaz to obtain informed consent:

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Go to this corner in any critical care room (here is a closer look) and obtain a central line kit:


Finally, obtain these items:

  • mayo stand
  • sterile gloves
  • chlorhexidine scrub
  • 2-3 sterile saline flushes
  • non-sterile marking pen
  • ultrasound machine and ultrasound probe cover
  • in kit: hat, gown, facemask




  • Open kit and empty sterile contents onto the field
    • Plug in ultrasound machine. It WILL run out of battery if you don’t and the screen will shut off in the middle of the procedure
    • Test your US probe orientation: tap gently on left side of probe…this should match left side of your screen
    • Examine the target vein: is it compressible? Is it plump and easily visualized?
    • Position the patient
    • Scrub target area with chlorhexidine
    • Mark the site


…and document it:

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Watch this video. 

From EMCrit.org, Scott Weingart, RACC Sterile Line Preparation

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Time to Abandon Epinephrine for OHCA?

This is part of a recurring series examining landmark articles in Emergency Medicine, in the style of ALiEM’s 52 Articles.

Discussing: Wenzel, K. et al. A comparison of vasopressin and epinephrine for out-of-hospital cardiopulmonary resuscitation. N Engl J Med 2004;350(2):105-113.

Main Points:

  1. For out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA), vasopressin was similar to epinephrine in patients with ventricular fibrillation or pulseless electrical activity, with regards to survival to hospital admission and survival to hospital discharge. Vasopressin was noted to be superior, in both outcomes, for patients with asystole.
  1. In patients with refractory cardiac arrest and no ROSC, vasopressin followed by epinephrine may be more effective than epinephrine alone.


With more than 600,000 sudden death in North America and Europe annually, optimization of CPR is crucial to improve a patient’s chance of survival. Epinephrine use has become controversial as it induces increased myocardial consumption and ventricular arrhythmias post-resuscitation. Endogenous vasopressin levels have been known to be elevated in successfully resuscitated patients. In small prior studies, vasopressin has been associated with higher rate of short term survival and improved blood flow to vital organs when compared to epinephrine. Current guidelines recommend the use of epinephrine during cardiac resuscitation, with vasopressin as a secondary alternative.


This study was a double-blind, prospective randomized clinical trial, conducted in 44 Emergency Medical Service units in three European countries, including those with OHCA unresponsive to defibrillation. 1186/1219 patients with OHCA were included in the trial with randomization to two injections of either 40 IU of vasopressin or 1 mg epinephrine, followed by additional treatment with epinephrine at the discretion of the emergency physician managing the resuscitation. Average age 66 years, 70% men, 61% attributed to cardiac causes, 78% arrests witnessed. 33 patients were excluded due to a missing study drug code. The rates of hospital admission were similar between the two treatment groups for patients with ventricular fibrillation (46.2 vs 43%, p=0.48) and pulseless electrical activity (33.7 vs 30.5%, p=0.65). Patients with asystole treated with vasopressin were more likely to survive to hospital admission (29.0 vs 20.3%, p=0.02) and hospital discharge (4.7 vs 1.5%, p=0.04). Among 732 patients without ROSC, additional treatment with epinephrine resulted in improvement in rates of survival to hospital admission (25.7 vs 16.4%, p=0.002) and discharge (6.2 vs 1.7%, p=0.002) in the vasopressin group, but not the epinephrine group. Continue reading

Should We Reconsider Antipyretics For Fever?

What is Fever?

Although often used interchangeably, the terms fever and hyperthermia refer to different processes, and the distinction is key. In fever the thermoregulatory set-point is elevated, and the body actively raises its temperature with chills and rigors to reach the new set-point. In hyperthermia the body’s temperature exceeds the set-point, due to increased heat production (eg hypermetabolic state) or decreased dissipation (eg high humidity or ambient temperature).1

Fever is generally defined as temperature ≥38°C (100.4°F) and results from a complex mechanism. The body produces pyrogens (specific cytokines) that act on the thermoregulatory center in the hypothalamus to increase the set-point. This is thought to occur by increased prostaglandin synthesis, and antipyretic drugs lower the set-point likely by inhibiting prostaglandin synthesis.2 There are also numerous endogenous antipyretics (cryogens).

Increased temperatures enhance immune function in many ways, including improved neutrophil migration and secretion of antibacterial substances, increased interferon, and increased T cell proliferation.1


Fever Anxiety

A 1980 study titled “Fever phobia: misconceptions of parents about fever” surveyed parents, and found 94% thought fever may have harmful effects, 18% thought brain damage or serious harm could result from fever <38.9°C (102°F), and 16% thought fever could rise up to 48.9°C (120°F) if untreated.3 A 2001 study re-examined similar questions, and found 76% believed serious harm could occur at ≤40°C (104°F).3

This phobia also exists among healthcare workers. A 1992 survey by the American Academy of Pediatrics in Massachusetts showed 65% of pediatricians thought fever alone is potentially dangerous, 72% “always or often” prescribed antipyretics for fever, and 89% recommended antipyretics for fever of 101-102°F.4 A 2000 study of pediatric emergency department nurses, with a median experience of 8 years, found 11% were unsure what temperature constituted fever, 29% thought permanent brain injury or death could occur from high fever, and 18% believed it is dangerous for children to be discharged from the emergency department if still febrile.5

Is Fever Harmful?

Some providers have concerns that the increased temperature or metabolic demand from fever will harm patients. Humans generally tolerate temperatures below 41°C (105.8F) without harm. In contrast to hyperthermia, it is extremely rare for fever as a host defense against infection to reach dangerous temperatures in neurologically normal patients, since the body is actively adjusting both the set-point and actual temperature.3 A 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics policy paper states “There is no evidence that fever itself worsens the course of an illness or that it causes long-term neurologic complications.” 6 Continue reading

CITW 13: Itch, itch, itch

Welcome back to another Clinical Image of the Week from the case files of the Brown EM Residency!

HPI/ROS: 37 year old male with no significant past medical history presents to the ED with a rash. He states that it began one month ago and has been getting worse. Associated symptom is intense pruritus. It is not painful and nothing of note has made it better or worse. He’s never had a rash like this before. He denies any fevers, chills, shortness of breath, chest pain, myalgia/arthralgias, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or urinary symptoms. He denies any recent exposures (environmental or chemical), medication changes, recent infections, or sick contacts.

Vital Signs: T 98.6, HR 88, RR 14, BP 156/72, SpO2 99% on RA

Pertinent physical exam: Diffuse, papular rash along upper and lower extremities including trunk and back. The neck and face are spared. It is non-blanching, non-weeping, and there are no open sores. It spares the face, lower back, and calves. Patient appears well otherwise. No other pertinent exam findings.


TwoWhat’s the diagnosis?

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